Aussie law firm Minter Ellison has brought David Cox on board to head its Shanghai office. He arrives in China from the London office of Masons, a UK firm, where he specialized in advising on corporate and commercial work, and project finance and infrastructure development.

His arrival will help fill the gap left by John Cole's departure to Simmons & Simmons at the end of last year. Since then Sam Farrands has taken on the responsibility of running the Shanghai office in addition to his role as managing partner of the Hong Kong office, while Yi Yi Wu, a senior associate, handled the day-to-day operations on the ground. Cox will now run the office, assuming the position of special counsel, and will report to Farrands, who maintains overall responsibility.

Cox is no stranger to China having spent two years as chief representative of Masons' Guangzhou office. He also worked in Hong Kong before that. As a key member of the firm's Greater China team he advised on foreign investment, Sino-foreign joint ventures, technology transfers and regulatory issues. He returns to China after an 18-month spell in London.

Minter is among the top tier in its home market but like other Australian firms has failed in the past to capitalize on its proximity to Asia. Instead, law firms from the US and UK dominate the market for cross-border legal advice in the region, even though Aussie lawyers themselves are well regarded - British and American firms employ more Australian lawyers in Asia than Australian firms do.

But as this hire demonstrates it isn't always one-way traffic: Cox is a UK lawyer. He is also admitted to practise in Hong Kong. And in September Minter poached Fred Kinmonth, a partner, from US firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison.

Indeed, Minter is now part of a new wave of Aussie firms taking on their international rivals for a piece of the action in China. With ramped up offices in Hong Kong and China they are increasingly succeding. Minter has advised on Tencent Holdings' HK$1.18 billion initial public offer, the West-East pipeline project and the $13 billion LNG supply contract to the Guangdong terminal project.